Country of origin of cameras in Wards catalogs from 1938-1962

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Nov 18, 2010.

  1. Country of Origin of cameras in Montgomery Wards Camera Catalogs 1938-1962

    In trying to do what I am pleased to call "research" on historical cameras, I have accumulated some odd-ball artifacts. In this case, a series of old Montgomery Ward annual camera catalogs. I chose Wards over Sears, because Wards more often offered regular brands rather than their own re-badged house brands. I became curious as to what kinds of cameras were offered and when it was that the Japanese came to dominate the market place. As it happens, Japanese cameras were largely absent before 1953, but very quickly replaced both USA and German quality cameras in the market.

    The chart below is not so self explanatory as it would seem at first glance. First of all, it includes all kinds of cameras, from box cameras to movie cameras. This very much affects the nature of the chart.

    Here are comments:
    • First, and this is important, movie cameras (along with box cameras) are responsible for most USA-made cameras after the early 1950s. Without these, the USA contribution would have fallen off sharply. Only Kodak and Argus persisted in the market, and of course the better Kodak cameras were mostly made in Germany. Good quality 35mm and 120 cameras are first dominated by Germany after the early 50s, and then by 1962, the Japanese actually pass Germany in supplying cameras to Wards.
    • The number of movie cameras increases considerably over the years up to the late 1950s and begins to drop off after that point.
    • The percentage of movie cameras that are 16mm, increases and then declines considerably over time.
    • The presence of the Swiss, such as it is, is in movie cameras, except for an early stray Alpa waist-level SLR.
    • Wartime (WWII) camera sales were dominated by used cameras, since what production there was went mostly to the military until 1944 when some civilian production for "key" persons such as reporters was opened up in the rationing system.
    • Because the catalog I have for 1952 is not complete, the data are given only for relative number; there was no real decline in the number of cameras offered that year.
    • "Germany" includes both the Soviet and Western occupied zones after WWII.

    As an aside, also be aware that over most of this time, there were large excise taxes on new cameras. Usually these are included in the price in ads. If you look at magazine ads during this period, you will note that "used" cameras sold without tax seem to be much more prominent in the market than they were after the tax was taken off. Hmmm....

    Anyhow, here is the chart of country of origin of all types of cameras listed. My spreadsheet also has data on types of film used in these cameras and on specific types like rangefinder, box camera and so on. Because of the complexity of charts based on these, I won't try right now to present those, since they are so difficult to read that they are what are called "chartjunk" as they now stand.

  2. Oh, and the dip in USA-made cameras in 1958 reflects the fact that few box cameras were listed that year for some reason.
  3. Did WARDS at one time sell Argus RF's under the store name? I seem to recall some clunky brick-like RF's badged by WARDS. Not that all that's clunky and brick like, was made by Argus. (But a lot were).
    Your graph reveals how as the Americans lost, the Germans and Japanese gained. And then shows the Germans going stagnant, and the Japanese passing them. Interesting study.
  4. Where's the Polaroids? All made in the USA, of course. Early ones sold at a loss, but they made that back in a few rolls of film...
  5. Interesting, JDM, both in terms of global trade and economics and in relation to the rise and fall of photographic trends. I'd never given a thought to the US being a dominant producer of amateur movie gear, so there you go...
  6. I have a couple of those old Wards camera specialty catalogs, somewhere. They are interesting.
    Kent in SD
  7. Good work! Very fascinating. I'm surprised no French cameras made it over.
  8. I think the rise of Japan's contribution tracks the rise of the focal-plane SLR almost exactly.

  9. I read recently that cameras and photography items were not really restricted or rationed during the war. The reason given was that the people at home could take photographs and send them to the solders thus boosting morale. Kodak also was one of the main suppliers of enlargers until the 1950's.
  10. Several notes:
    First -- this is just the Ward's catalog, so constitutes a kind of 'sample' of the market as a whole.
    Polaroids are 1-3 cameras in each catalog. All folding cameras, of course, in this time range.
    Marc's point is right in a way, but Japanese cameras pretty well cover the range so while the Japanese number 'track' the SLRs, those cameras are only part of the total up to the last year.
    The Japanese cameras first come in as RFs, most notably Canon to start with. Then the Rolleis and a few American TLRs are still offered, but a series of Japanese TLRs go up considerably in the list.
    When SLRs with prisms come in, the leaf-shutter ones from Germany (including Kodak) are the most common, and only toward the end of the chart do focal plane shutter SLRs become more frequent. So far as this chart is concerned, the Nikon F (which is offered along side two Nikkorex cameras) doesn't come in until the early sixties.
  11. Sidebar on WWII photography situation:
    Photography was encouraged during World War II and some photographic supplies were available, but they most certainly were often unavailable (company making bomb sights or whatever) or available in limited numbers. The demands of the front took precedence over the civilian market until it was clear that the Allies were winning. I don't think (I was a toddler at the time) that there were any actual "ration stamps" for photographic supplies, but "priority status" was needed to buy lots of equipment. You had to be an "essential user" to qualify for "immediate delivery" on many items such as projectors, movie cameras, and press cameras (all made in USA) as late as September 1944 at Peerless Photo, for example.
  12. This is an interesting trend line and an excellent use of resource material for your study.
    I don't think the Sears catalogs could be used as there is a large gap from 1941 to 1952.
    The Popular Photography Buyers Guides were published from May 1938-May 1942. They published the next issue in Oct. 1948. In 1950 they became an annual stand-alone issue. In the early 60's they were part of the Nov. and Dec. issues.
    Montgomery Wards did an excellent job in producing these catalogs. They not only show a good selection of equipment, they also have nice buyers guide. I would recommend these to anyone who wants to know the equipment available and an understanding of the photographic process for that era.
    It took me 2 years to assemble a complete set from 1938 to 1963. The war years are hard to find. If you need information from the 1952 catalog let me know.
  13. I haven't tried to get the complete set, although that would have been better for this sort of exercise. The task of counting up the types, film types, and countries of origin is too tedious to ask anyone else to repeat the experience, and there are some things that need to be chosen by the same person for consistency in counting, anyway. Thanks for the offer.
    Yes I have a number of the PP buyer's guides.
    I have individual runs of the old photo magazines, and perhaps someday I'll do something similar with those, but like the catalogs, I've only tried for a sort of "representative sample" rather than completeness.

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